Oscar Voting Panic; Plus, ‘Poor Things’ Tries To Defy Expectations; Annette Bening, ‘American Fiction’ & More Tales From The Trail – Notes On The Season

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A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.
“Happy first day of voting,” a publicist told me over the phone late Thursday afternoon while still pitching last minute interviews before final Oscar ballots are due back on Tuesday. I didn’t realize the first day of voting was becoming like a national holiday and cause for celebration, but after nine months of talking about these movies and this race in one form or another it probably is just that. Let the fireworks begin!
NEBRASKA IS WATCHING YOU, OSCAR
It is a Presidential election year and so inevitably someone has taken a poll on the popularity of the Oscars vs the national election by surveying every state (these people need to get a life). At any rate as CasinoReviews.net points out in their poll “Scorsese vs Nolan outshines Trump vs Haley”, adding just 12 states have more enthusiasm for the elections rather than Oscars (Ohio is the lone state with a 50/50 split interest). Wyoming, by 71% to 29%, is most interested in the Presidential race, while on the other end of the scale Nebraska, by 74% to 26%, is the most enthusiastic for Oscars (Maybe because Nebraska director Alexander Payne has a new film in the race this year?). Look for these kinds of useless polls to come out roaring in the next couple of weeks, all trying to cash in on Oscar fever (or something).
Nebraska Oscar Fans Photo: Institute Of Agriculture & Natural Resouces – Lincoln Nebraska
‘POOR THINGS’ RESETS VOTER EXPECTATIONS
I am always amused during what we call Phase Two of the season (the period between nominations being revealed and statuettes presented) as the films still standing make their final pitch, often with a new ad line. In 2010 campaigns for the three top contenders changed gears got serious. For instance, Avatar started emphasizing its environmental credentials. Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards lost the Nazi insignia in its ads and replaced it with a Star Of David. The Hurt Locker ceased selling itself as an exciting war film and instead booked their filmmakers on panels with experts on the Middle East. Searchlight has always been the best at this. During their 2013 campaign for12 Years A Slave they came up with a simple line to wrap up their message: “It’s Time”.
Among current campaigns driving their message is Focus Features’ The Holdovers which is running a heavy TV-ad-driven buy with the closing thought, “Hold On To What Connects Us”. This year there are also ads in the trades and billboards all over L.A. for their fantastical comedy, Poor Things, that have a large photo of Emma Stone’s character and slyly state “DEFY EXPECTATIONS”. It works on a couple of levels, but to voters who have read pundits overwhelming predictions, especially by intimating ‘don’t believe Oppenheimer has this thing wrapped up’.
Q&As GO TO LAST MINUTE
So the campaigns are still out there in full force and believe it or not so are the Q&As which for some films, American Fiction and Killers Of The Flower Moon in particular (Apple is pouring considerable cash into print ads and constant TV advertising for the latter, the strategy that made them still the only streamer with a Best Picture Oscar) will be going throughout the weekend, even as SAG, Indie Spirits, and the Producers Guild Awards are all also happening. It is batshit crazy time. In fact on Wednesday I moderated my final Q&A of the very long season, this one for SAG with the cast of the aforementioned American Fiction at a packed screening at the WGA theatre for the film, like many others, that has had dozens of these all season. SAG voting actually doesn’t end until today, even as the show is on Saturday, so consultants, perhaps remembering Harvey’s (sorry) mantra that you have to chase every last possible vote are doing just that.
Early season American Fiction Q&A for SAG Foundation
At this final SAG Q&A, Sterling K. Brown, Erika Alexander, Jon Ortiz, and Jeffrey Wright all seemed fresh as the first time I interviewed them all in the Fall when they left their own L.A. premiere and came over to my KCET Cinema Series in Westwood for a Q&A before heading back to the film’s reception. SAG could turn out to be an important night as though both Wright and Brown are up in their respective lead and supporting categories, but the whole ensemble is competing for Cast in a Motion Picture against heavy hitters like Oppenheimer , Barbie, and Killers Of The Flower Moon. That category is SAG’s version of Best Picture and has, as often as not, produced some interesting upsets that sent movies like Parasite, CODA, and others on to Best Picture Oscar glory.
Getty Images
Remember just last year at SAG when both Michelle Yeoh and Jamie Lee Curtis stopped then-frontrunners Cate Blanchett and Angela Bassett in their tracks and carried it straight through to Oscar night. Anything can happen. By the way just to prove no one, even an actor in the heat of the Oscar race, is immune to Mother Nature Wright got stuck on the mud soaked Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu and finally turned up about 25 minutes in the Q&A which had to start without him. The audience didn’t seem to mind. All the actors stayed afterward for the horde of selfie-seekers who crowded the stage and a good time was had by all.
It may have been my last Q&A, but both writer/director Cord Jefferson and Wright are among participants in another one tonight in Beverly Hills, and yet another one at Vidiots in East L.A. on Monday night, right on the edge of voting closing the next day. And in between American Fiction will be all over the SAG, Spirits, and PGA ceremonies on the weekend (who decided it was a good idea to have the Spirits starting at 2pm in a tent at Santa Monica Beach and the PGA awards at the Dolby all the way over in Hollywood at 5pm?). This group is busy.
AFRICAN AMERICAN CRITICS CELEBRATE YEAR’S BEST
Jeffrey Wright (L) presents AAFCA Award to George C. Wolfe (R) – Photo: AAFCA
After the SAG Q&A the cast headed over to the African American Critics Association Awards dinner at the Beverly Wilshire where their film was named Best Comedy, Screenplay, Supporting Actor, and Emerging Filmmaker awards in a night that also crowned Ava Duvernay’s Origin as Best Drama, Director, and lead actress for Aunjunue Ellis Taylor, and The Color Purple in several categories including Best Musical. The latter’s co-star Colman Domingo won Lead Actor for Rustin ,and hit the stage several times during the course of the evening, always a fun one and very well attended. Best speech of the evening went to honoree,Rustin director George C. Wolfe who quoted an old Russian proverb (or so he said) that stated, “You must support talented people because untalented people will make it on their own”. This was a room full of talented people getting the support they have long deserved. Jefferson told me he was still reeling from winning the Adapted Screenplay BAFTA award over the weekend. “I couldn’t believe it. I was shocked, ” he laughed as I reminded him he managed to beat four Englishmen on their home field.
SANTA BARBARA MISSES ANNETTE BENING
Speaking of Q&As , as we were, I was back at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival last Friday where I was scheduled to host the last tribute of the fest this year (I had done the first one for Bradley Cooper the week before when he received Outstanding Performer Of The Year). It was to be the Inaugural Arlington Award honoring Annette Bening, but alas a phone call early that morning informed me she had caught whatever is going around and the event would have to be cancelled, a disappointment not just for me and Bening, but the many festgoers who bought tickets for the 2000 seat Arlington Theatre.
Annette Bening in ‘Nyad’
It was going to be quite a night as Michael Douglas, her The American President co-star had actually already flown into Santa Barbara with wife Catherine and was to present the award after the career conversation and many choice clips we were going to show from her remarkable career, including all five of her Oscar-nominated roles (incredibly she has never won) plus her current Best Actress nomination for Nyad. Disappointingly, from what I hear, she also isn’t going to be 100% well enough to make Saturday’s SAG awards where she is also nominated. I talked to the festival’s artistic director Roger Durling and asked if I could include the opening reel they had prepared (excellently edited by Mike McGee) in this column in lieu of the fact no one got to saw it that night. Check it out below as at least Notes On The Season gets to celebrate this amazing career.
NAI NAI AND WAI PO ARE READY FOR THEIR CLOSEUP, MR. DeMIILE
‘Nǎi Nai and Wài Pó’ Courtesy of Even/Odd
And finally, Best Documentary Short nominee, Nǎi Nai and Wài Pó (Disney+/Hulu) from filmmaker Sean Wang offers up the feel good moment of the week with the release of a video featuring the title stars in their ultimate senior moment getting a fitting for their Oscar night outfits. The short is Wang’s love letter to his two aging grandmas who now live together in Northern California’s Bay Area, even sleeping in the same bed. Nǎi Nai is 96 and Wài Pó is 85. A year ago they were unassuming Taiwanese seniors, and now they are going to the Oscars. They even turned heads at last week’s Oscar nominees luncheon! (that distinction belonged to 101 year old Grace Linn of rival docu short, The ABC’s Of Book Banning which you see free now on You Tube – she is also going to the Oscars) Nai Nai and Wai Po are being styled by Shirley Kurate with custom outfits from Rodarte. Take a look at how Disney is getting attention for this charming short with a short of its own showing how they plan to be red carpet ready. Watch below.

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